|My first hike up Bernal Heights, back in 2012.|
This morning, there is a thumbprint of the moon in the sky, a trace of what was last night. The rest of the sky is one smooth swatch of mellow blue, slick and wrinkle-less. We are at the top of Bernal Heights. The paved road we walked wraps around the hill like a coil, and we’re getting a 360-degree view as we climb up.
Along the way, we encounter more dogs than people. One man has two large Irish wolfhounds, shaggy salt-and-pepper grey creatures, a few shades darker than the man’s silvery gray mane. He’s wearing their un-tethered leashes around his neck, and he walks behind them, as they zig-zag between one side of the trail and the other, sniffing the dry grass and whatever else interests them along the way. We stop and comment on these pony-sized dogs.
“They’re so big!” we say.
“That one used to be my little girl,” he says, pointing to the larger one of the two. She has hair as thick as a bath mat. “Now this one is my little girl. She’s seven months old,” he says, pointing to the smaller one, who is not much smaller, but has hair that is thinner, not fully grown in.
The wolfhounds are his dog-children, and he talks about them with pride.
“We have a Shih-Tsu at home too,” he says, “but he can’t keep up on these outdoor walks.”
“Do you have a backyard?” I ask.
I imagine the dogs are like large pieces of moving furniture in tiny San Francisco apartments, expensive occupants of space but worth the price for their effect on the apartment: a cozy and domestic enhancement.
“No,” he says. “They’re fine inside. They like to sleep all day.”
“Have a good morning,” we say, moving towards the next pack of dogs. There are many along the way.
I don’t love dogs, but I understand why people do: for their quiet companionship, for their unconditional love, for their cuteness. They also provide a happy reason to get out into the world, to walk your neighborhood, to strike up a conversation.
A friend of mine runs after dogs she sees on the street, chasing after little moments of acceptable and always (mostly) requited connections with strangers.
Another friend does the same but with babies. This chase is the same: for dependable joy, both aesthetic and emotional; for a little breath of life, not fraught with social mores or anxieties.
“Babies are your social network,” I tell my baby-loving friend.
“I never realized that, but you’re right,” she says, as she moves towards another stroller. “I love the ones with curly hair.”